I continue to get reactions to my article about the Virginia Tech killings. In that column, I stated that a criminal mind, capable of committing—and justifying—such terrorist acts, was almost certainly beyond ‘help.’ While administrators and mental health workers sat around wringing their hands over how to ‘cure’ the murderous Mr. Cho (in spite of his previous offenses), he proceeded to casually snuff out 33 lives, including his own.
Every comment I received was positive, almost as if I had put into words what everybody was thinking—but didn’t want to say (we call that the ‘elephant in the living room’). Most of the writers and callers wondered how this could have been allowed to happen, and if ‘political correctness’ was worth more than the lives of those innocent people. How, they asked, can we be so sure that anyone and everyone—no matter how warped or evil—can be ‘helped?’ Isn’t that why we have prisons?
This is in no way an indictment of anyone in the mental health industry. Indeed, the insightful book I referenced, Inside the Criminal Mind, was written by a noted mental health professional, Dr. Stanton Samenow. But in spite of his conclusions based on years of first-hand experience with the worst criminals, there are many out there who would still rather think that all these killers really need is a ‘good talking to.’
The simple fact is this: You can’t reason with somebody who has already made up his mind about something for strictly emotional reasons. If someone has formed what he or she considers ‘airtight’ conclusions, then you can try to persuade all you want, but it’s not going to make any difference. (Ever try watching those ‘debate’ shows on Fox News or CNN? You get the idea.)
I wrote that people can be prone to ’emotional reasoning.’ Emotional reasoning is the opposite of objectivity. When a person is genuinely objective, he or she really wants to know the full truth. Criminals, as Dr. Samenow wrote in his book, don’t want to know the truth about what they’re doing; they just want to act on their emotional conclusions—the defective ‘reasoning’ behind most horrible crimes and terrorist acts.
The non-criminal population can engage in emotional reasoning as well. This is one of the reasons I like the concept of ‘life coaching’ even better than traditional psychotherapy. The perception behind traditional psychotherapy is that somebody ‘heals’ you. With life coaching, someone helps you to heal yourself. This approach tends to cut through the emotional reasoning and places the individual in a position of self-responsibility.
So, what does ‘getting help’ actually mean? The first step for getting help is to figure out what you want. In other words: What isn’t working in your life, and what would it all look like if things were going better? Paint as detailed a picture as you can. It’s not just a question of how your job, career or relationships will be different—it’s more a question of how a typical day in your life will be different. At first, don’t worry about HOW this is all going to happen. Just visualize your ‘ideal day.’
The second phase involves asking yourself, ‘What steps do I take to start making this happen?’ One of my favorite expressions in this regard is, ‘Don’t keep thinking—start doing.’ Many people over-think their problems and end up living in a kind of elaborate, intellectualized fantasyland. To avoid this trap, I encourage you to take some action, however small, every single day, to make your life better. This is called the action component. If you do nothing but sit and self-reflect, then your life will be nothing more than self-reflection. Nothing will ever happen! Action is what holds it all together. You can’t make something real if you don’t ‘translate’ it into reality, every day of your life. This is the whole point of action. Life coaching can help by having someone make suggestions, support you, and, in a sense, witness your goal setting so that you can better follow through with it.
That’s what ‘getting help’ really means. Of course, different people are at different points and situations in their lives. Some are poised to turn a successful career into an even more successful career. Others are simply trying to make it through the day. Yet, either way, goals must be set, desires must be visualized, and strategies for action must be developed. It’s fine to get help, but we all ultimately have to help ourselves.
Now you see why I cringe when someone says of a violent killer, ‘Oh, if only he had gotten help!’ For a criminal or otherwise destructive person, help is beside the point. Through emotional reasoning, he or she has already made up their mind about what they ‘feel’ is right, and nobody can talk them out of it. That’s why, when dealing with potentially dangerous persons, it’s best to focus not on ‘helping’ them, but more importantly, on stopping them.